Lean UX : Another Agile UX?

Agile is the most popular and successful SDLC model as of today as it allows better scope in providing continuous and iterative refinement to the product. Historically when developers out of their frustrations with waterfall model turned to the growing Agile Movement to regain their control over the process, they found that “like its ancestors, Agile also didn’t take UX into account. Several of the Agile methods, such as Scrum and XP, recommended users sitting with the team during the development process, but that isn’t the same as design. Everyone who figured out how to get what they wanted from plugging UX into a phased waterfall approach was now struggling to work inside the Agile methods. The Agile principles, that focus more on communication and less on contracts, didn’t fit the status quo UX processes”.So efforts were made again to implement UX into Agile methods just like the way it was implemented into waterfall model . But it was not easy as , in waterfall model there are 2 things which helped implemented UX :

 

  1. The objectives of the project stays same from kickoff to the point where the finished product is launched.
  2. The designers created the set of design specifications as a contract which the developers had to implement into the final product.

 

And above two cannot be expected from Agile model as it is based on iterations and gradual exploration of what is best fit for the final product . On ejust simply cannot predict the final design from the start of the project. So many attempts were made to get the best agile SDLC practices that can incorporate the UX , before “Lean UX” was born.

 

As the above figure shows the documentation and guidelines are stripped to their bare minimum components, providing the minimum amount of information necessary to get started on implementation. Also Long detailed design cycles are discarded in favor of very short, iterative, low-fidelity cycles, with feedback coming from all members of the implementation team early and often.

 

 

Challenges with Agile model of SDLC to implement UX

There are several challenges in implementing UX in Agile model effectively and these challenges include:

  • Different approaches. Usability methodologies are centered on the user and holistic view of the user needs whereas agile methodologies take a broader view and focus on the stakeholder. Agile methods primarily focus on delivering working software early.
  • Different goals: Software engineers focus on the technical design, implementation the system where as UX practitioners focus on “developing systems so end-users can use them effectively”.
  • Organizational challenges: The agile methodologies focus on strategy where teams are self-organizing whereas UX focuses on a centralized UX groups within some organizations so that the needed practices, tools, and standards can be provided.
  • UX practitioners struggle to be heard: Many UX practitioners often complain that the results of their work are not considered in the design decisions and even if it is heard, there seems to be focus more on engineering decisions over the usability decisions.

Lean UX and Agile Model

 

Many of UX practitioners see “Lean UX” as the answers to the challenge we see in implementing UX into an Agile SDLC where it uses “taking the best parts of our current UX practices and redesigning them specifically for use in an agile world”. Lean UX, is about reducing waste in a process by removing it from the value chain of the usability process..

The proactive measures for border engagement in Agile model has paved path to a new and more practical implementation of UX discipline and methods called “Lean UX” Lean UX once blended with any exiting Agile SDLC, helps to “create a more productive team and a more collaborative process” .

 

The basic principles Lean UX uses to provide positive refinements to SDLC are through the following 3 foundation stones for it:

 

  1. Design Thinking:This foundation upholds the concept that “every aspect of a business can be approached with design methods” and gives “designers permission and precedent to work beyond their typical boundaries”.
  2. Agile Software Development: Core values of Agile are the key to Lean UX.
  3. Lean Startup method:Lean Startup uses a feedback loop called “build-measure-learn” to minimize project risk and gets teams building quickly and learning quickly

 

Lean UX and UX in Agile SDLC

 

“Lean UX” is seen as the answers to the challenge we see in implementing UX into an Agile SDLC. As discussed in the earlier chapters, Lean UX principles use “taking the best parts of our current UX practices and redesigning them specifically for use in an agile world”.

Lean UX solved many issues were even there with the practices and usability process used in waterfall and different derivative iterative models. In Lean UX practices, there is no more requirements for the “objectives will stay the same and that you can design for a single solution throughout the project”. Also there no more need for the designers to create bulky guidelines and documentations for the developers to be used as a contract. Rather the Lean UX practice upholding agile approach, only focuses on each independent design iteration as a “hypothesis” which has to be validated from a “customer perspective” and from a “business perspective” . The beauty here is because of the Agile process being followed, fast iterations can happen to quickly test hypotheses and get to a great design in the end of the project.

In context of a real world situation the Lean UX is something like:

“The traditional paper work is discarded, while the focus is turned to making sketches of the idea. Then the sketch is presented and discussed with the team. The initial prototype effort is very small comparing to detailed documents, so it’s easy to make changes. After it’s agreed internally, rough prototype is made and tested with users. The learning from users help refine the idea and iteration starts over again”

And this makes case for “collaboration with the entire team” as it becomes critical to the success of the product and the whole project.

 

The Beauty of Lean UX: Everything is familiar

No practice used in Lean UX is something new. Rather it is “built from well-understood UX practices”. Many of the techniques used over the time in various UX process and have the practical usability even today, have been packaged properly in Lean UX.

 

Lean UX is not Same as Agile UX

Lean UX is a totally different term than Agile UX.Lean UX details methods and their practical application in dynamic environment of a Lean StartupIt is the converging point for product development and business, through constant measurement and so called “learning loops” (build – measure – learn).

Agile UX defines update of Agile Software Methodology with UX Design methods. It aims to unify developers and designers in the Agile process of product development.

However Lean UX uses Agile UX methodologies, tools to coordinate their software development.

Foundation Stones of Lean UX:

The key ingredients of Lean UX which act as foundation stones for it are:

 

  1. Design Thinking:
    This foundation upholds the concept that “every aspect of a business can be approached with design methods” and gives “designers permission and precedent to work beyond their typical boundaries”.

  2. Agile Software Development
    Core values of Agile are the key to Lean UX. It forces on 4 major principles of Agile development to product design:
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: This principle louds the concept of exchange of ideas freely and frequently in a team. “The constraints of current processes and production tools are eschewed in favor of conversation with colleagues”
    • Working Software over Documentation:This focuses on bringing out solution quickly so that it can be “accessed for market and viability”.
    • Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation:Collaboration with teammates and customers builds consensus behind decisions which results in faster iterations and lessens heavy documentations.
    • Responding to change over following a plan: “The assumption in Lean UX is that the initial product designs will be wrong, so the goal should be to find out what’s wrong with them as soon as possible” and this helps in finding the right direction quickly.
  3. Lean Startup method: 
    Lean Startup uses a feedback loop called “build-measure-learn” to minimize project risk and gets teams building quickly and learning quickly. Typically startups are “free to build products in a manner which differentiate on quality”. Also startups can focus on “intrinsic value and usefulness of the product, rather than on a long list of mostly irrelevant features”. Startups have a distinguishable feature of reducing long product cycles into smaller, shorter chunks and validating these iterations with people that will use the products, actually opens the gate for important information needed to avoid expensive development cycles that come withsome kind of risk. ”The secret sauce of lean startup people is that they advocate for user experience research and design as one of the primary solutions to their business problems, and they do it using plain language”.

 

 

Lean Startup method: The concept of “Build-Measure-Learn”

The fundamental activity of a startup is to “turn ideas into products” at the first step. Next it has the aim to measure how customers respond and then to learn whether to pivot or persevere. So basically a startup’s success depends on this feedback loop. To be successful a startup has to accelerate that feedback loop. The feedback loop being employed here includes three primary activities: build the product, measure data and learn new ideas.

However the Lean Startup method employed in Lean UX , is slightly different – it’s basically about “Think-Make-Check”. The difference lies in the fact that in latter case the “feedback loop incorporates your own thoughts as a designer, not just ideas learned through measurement”.

 

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – Prototyping at it’s best in Lean Startup Method

Minimum viable product is a version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time. The MVP is, in fact, an early prototype that serves as a tool to learn and test the team’s assumptions.

 

 

Lean UX is where prototyping is best promoted, focusing the prototype on major components of the experience. Once created, it will be immediately testable by any and all users to start the feedback loop. In most of the case the fidelity of the prototype is not a road block, rather the only mission is to get a quick prototype that can be tested quickly. However where the need for better visualization has priority, the best practices and tools are used to develop high fidelity prototypes in shortest time possible.

 

Principles of Lean UX

There are some guiding principles behind Lean UX which can be used to make sure the methodologies used in a Lean process is on track.

 

  1. Cross-Functional Teams: Specialists from various disciplines come together to form a cross functional team to create the product. Such a team typically consists of Software engineering, product management, interaction design, visual design, content strategy, marketing, and quality assurance (QA).
  2. Small, Dedicated, Collocated: Keep your teams small—no more than 10 total core people as keeping small team has the benefit of small teams comes down to three words: communication,focus, and camaraderie. It is easier to manage smaller team as keeping track of status report , change management and learning.
  3. Progress = Outcomes, Not Output: The focus should be on business goals which are typically are the “outcomes”, rather than the output product/system or service.
  4. Problem-Focused Teams:“A problem-focused team is one that has been assigned a business problem to solve, as opposed to a set of features to implement”.
  5. Removing Waste: This is one of the key ingredients of Lean UX which is focused on “removal of anything that doesn’t lead to the ultimate goal” so that the team resource can be utilized properly.
  6. Small Batch Size: Lean UX focuses on “notion to keep inventory low and quality high”.
  7. Continuous Discovery: “Regular customer conversations provide frequent opportunities for validating new product ideas”
  8. GOOB: The New User-Centricity: GOOB stands for “getting out of the building” — meeting-room debates about user needs won’t be settled conclusively within your office. Instead, the answers lie out in the marketplace, outside of your building.
  9. Shared Understanding: The more a team collectively understands what it’s doing and why, the less it has to depend on secondhand reports and detailed documents to continue its work.
  10. Anti-Pattern: Rock-stars, Gurus, and Ninjas:Team cohesion breaks down when you add individuals with large egos who are determined to stand out and be stars. So more efforts should on team collaboration.
  11. Externalizing Your Work:“Externalizing gets ideas out of teammates’ heads and on to the wall, allowing everyone to see where the team stands”.
  12. Making over Analysis: “There is more value in creating the first version of an idea than spending half a day debating its merits in a conference room”.
  13. Learning over Growth: “Lean UX favors a focus on learning first and scaling second”.
  14. Permission to Fail: “Lean UX teams need to experiment with ideas. Most of these ideas will fail.The team must be safe to fail if they are to be successful”.
  15. Getting Out of the Deliverables Business: “The team’s focus should be on learning which features have the biggest impact on the their customers. The artifacts the team uses to gain that knowledge are irrelevant.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

(c)2013-14, Samir Dash

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